Let me pose a question: if the only Christian you ever heard in the public sphere was someone like Pat Robertson, who claims for example that natural disasters are God’s punishment, what would you think of Christianity? If that’s all you heard, would you want to have anything to do with Christian faith?
The problem is that for most people who have not grown up in a church, Robertson and other Christian leaders and preachers like him are the only ones they know. They denounce the theory of evolution; they deny any evidence of global climate change; they claim that God hates homosexuals and lesbians; and so on.
There are other, more progressive and moderate Christians around, but we seldom get a hearing in the public sphere. There is a growing number of people who know that Christian faith is not about negativity, but about compassion and joy and grace. We don’t agree on all the details … but we agree that moderate voices need to be heard clearly and loudly to counter some of the hatred we hear in the name of God.
I recently read on a blog that given the current religious climate in North America, it is time for a 21st century revival of moderates and progressives. Yes, I said a revival!
That got me to thinking. Progressive Christians need to become more passionate in getting our message out in the public sphere. I tend to be a hopeful person. It’s time for us to move forward, to speak out with our moderate, positive, creative message.
We see the negative stuff most clearly in the growing religious storm in the United States: racist and homophobic epithets; death threats directed towards politicians who disagree with the religious right; the rise of Christian militia groups. I’ve written before in this column about some of the worst excesses. The scary thing is that it’s becoming increasingly common in Canada too.
Some of this is not new, but the volume is increasing. It has virtually drowned out the voices of progressive and moderate Christians in the public sphere and on cable television news.
So let me say some of what progressive and moderate Christians believe.
The universe is fourteen billion years old, and evolution is completely compatible with faith in God.
Humankind isn’t necessarily the centre of God’s plan. Other species matter as well. The whole earth matters, and Christians are interested in saving the earth.
God treasures variety — ethnic, sexual, cultural and religious variety.
The bible is inspired, but it is not infallible. It is not God’s direct communication with human beings. Rather these writings (and the Bible is a library of books rather than a single book) reflect the different contexts and times in which they were written—a cultural and historical context which is dramatically different from ours.
The bible supports an ethic of social concern. It is not about how to get to heaven when we die. It is about how we live here and now on this earth. Faith cares deeply about how we treat one another, and especially how we treat the most vulnerable in our society.
People of other faiths also have a relationship with God, and we can learn from each other.
Progressives pray and have an intense spiritual life. We believe God is active in our world, and moves through human beings. God wants us to be free, creative and adventurous in our life and our faith.
God does not cause tsunamis or hurricanes or cancer or any other so–called “act of God”.
Jesus had women followers, and their gifts were honoured. In fact, women are recorded as being the first preachers of the resurrection in the gospels. They are the first messengers of new life.
Christianity is a diverse and multi–faceted faith. People of faith can have serious questions about their beliefs, and persons can disagree without hating one another.
There is much more. But let me suggest that this is good news for our world. Christians who hate and denounce others betray Jesus’ command to love. Christian faith is not at odds with science, nor does it ignore the reality of human experience. Christian faith knows that God loves diversity, cherishes multiplicity and encourages creativity.
This progressive and moderate form of Christian faith is hopeful, gracious, and compassionate. It celebrates diversity as one of God’s good gifts. Truly, it is good news and deserves to be heard.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook